Labor Export as State Policy: The Philippine Case

Suzy Lee, Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY)

Labor export is a term that is often used in the scholarly and policy debates around migration and developing countries, though rarely with precise definition. It is often used synonymously or in place of the term labor migration, deployed to emphasize economic migrants’ loss of agency in conditions where, though the migration can legally be called voluntary, economic and social conditions render it something less than a free choice. In this chapter, I argue for a more specific definition of labor export – distinguishable from the more general labor-based migration – as a set of policies and activities that are designed to produce high rates of temporary, contract or employment-based migrations, and return some form of economic benefit to the sending country. Since the 1970s, the Philippine state has built a legal and policy apparatus around migration that can be characterized as a labor export regime. The state’s involvement with migration has gone beyond the diaspora engagement or migration facilitation activities documented in the paradigmatic sending states in the migration and transnationalism literature, towards efforts to initiate flow of migration into new markets. These interventions were crucial to the development of the temporary contract migration flows into the regions that began importing large numbers of workers in the mid- to late- twentieth century, including the Middle East and East Asia. State intervention helped to reshape Philippine migration from one that, in the beginning half of the twentieth century, was largely oriented towards permanent settlement in the United States to a much more expansive migration flow in which contract labor into new labor importing regions became the dominant form. I argue that this turn towards temporary, contract-based migration is crucial to understanding the interaction between labor migration and economic development.

See paper

 Presented in Session 213. Southeast Asia